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Are you busy?

In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, author Greg McKeown asks a question:

What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?

I used to wear my busy-ness as a badge of honor. I worried when I was not as busy as the people around me claimed to be. “It’s real crazy at the office,” I’d say to my spouse. Being busy was an easy excuse for not being present in the moment. I looked for things to do when I wasn’t being pushed to distraction by my own busy-ness.

The irony is that we need the contrary: we need to be pushed to focus.

One way we can achieve focus, according to McKeown, is to travel the “way of the Essentialist,” which he sums up as the “relentless pursuit of less but better.” I would sum up McKeown’s description as pausing constantly to ask, “Am I investing in the right activities?”

“I don’t have enough time,” is our universal lament. Well, more time will not be made. And it’s impossible to manage, anyway. Why would you want to attempt to manage something intangible, something over which you have no control?

Time is a container for our activities. You can focus on managing these activities, but you cannot manage the container. “There are far more activities and opportunities in the world than we have time and resources to invest in,” says McKeown. “And although many of them may be good, or even very good, the fact is that most are trivial and few are vital.”

Have I mastered my focus on activities? Hardly. I’m often distracted by opportunities I do not have the time or resources in which to invest. I have, though, learned from experience what will happen when I become distracted by stuff that makes me busy. It may sound grossly oversimplified, but the best lessons usually are.

If you eat too much, you get indigestion. Choose to eat less. If you take on too much, you get busy. Choose to do less.

Try this yourself. Find a few people you believe have achieved success. They can be the CEO of a Fortune 500 enterprise, or even the founder of a scrappy startup. Ask them if they are busy.

Focused people do not suffer from being too busy. They prune away the trivial. They no longer try to manage the container. They choose, instead, to measure its contents. Your perspective will change when you succeed in managing your activities, rather than attempting to manage your time.

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